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How to hold hybrid meetings

In an office in a town not too long ago, a new invention was being unveiled on the boardroom table. It was round and sleek. It had legs and a camera. People made appreciative noises as they watched the IT team connect it up and then project onto the screen the images of everybody who spoke, with the poor soul at the end of the video call projected in epic proportions.

Every few minutes, the internet signal cut out and they disappeared. Then they came back. Then they disappeared again. Not a huge success, but a funny memory for the company to recall when they looked back on those early days of video calling. And perhaps echoing the experiences of other companies too.

Thankfully, tech has moved on since then and meetings with remote participants are now commonplace and run much smoother.

With more companies adopting hybrid working, there has never been a better time to get to grips with hybrid meetings.

Moving to regular hybrid meetings can take some getting used to though and it’s not without its challenges. In its Hybrid Meetings Guide, Microsoft states that ‘hybrid meetings create imbalances in knowing how one is perceived, visibility of conversational cues, access to technology and resources, and distribution of power.’ There are certainly barriers to dismantle to create a hybrid meeting that is just as effective and engaging as if it were held with all participants in the same room.  Thankfully there are plenty of ways to dismantle them.

So, we’ve put together our tips to make these meetings work for you.  

Plan and Prepare

Before any meeting, you need to decide how it’s going to run.  Decide the format, agree the agenda, and communicate clearly to all attendees, whether they are joining in-person or remotely.  

Equipment and technology should be set up and tested before the meeting starts, and all participants must have complete and equal access to the technology and the same-version software.  When testing, don’t just test in-room equipment, ask remote participants to join a few minutes early so you can check everything’s working.  

And think about the numbers. Does the meeting have a disproportionate number of in-room attendees? Or is it the opposite? Consider if anything needs to change in the makeup of the group to avoid proximity bias.

Agree expectations

When you’re holding a meeting where part of the delegation is in their own home, it’s wise to set some expectations at the start about what is and isn’t ok. A bit like housekeeping. Things like, how can remote participants get the attention of the meeting chair or any other attendee if they need to? What is the etiquette for good listening and not having conversations that the remote participants are excluded from? What happens if the connection drops for remote participants and the meeting needs to be restarted? And the more sensitive ones – turning the camera and microphone off if a remote participant needs an impromptu loo break, or what to do if the virtual connection is hacked and inappropriate content comes onto the screen.  

Outline any requirements for the meeting to be recorded – either in person with a minute-taker or by recording using the record and playback options in your video conferencing software.  

Improve and upskill

Consider any training requirements for people managing and participating in hybrid meetings, such as facilitation training and upskilling in the use of different tech and software. And make sure your tech is fit for purpose – invest in new software or upgrades if you need to.

Ensure equal participation

Essentially, this comes down to effective facilitation. To ensure that all attendees, both in-person and remotely based, are able and encouraged to actively participate in the meeting, there needs to be competent facilitation, with the person leading the meeting making this a priority. We’ve mentioned before about the risk of proximity bias in hybrid working, and this is in a similar vein, sometimes referred to as ‘presence disparity’, the risk of those in the room having a better experience of the meeting than their remote colleagues.  

Also consider using tools like virtual hand-raising, chat or direct messaging to facilitate participation.  

Warm up and wind down

Structure the timings of the meeting so that it has a defined beginning and end.  Include time at the start for welcoming and introducing all attendees and be clear about when business is concluded. You don’t want people leaving the room or putting the kettle on during Any Other Business.

For collaborative sessions, a warmup activity can be useful to help people feel relaxed and become engaged. And make use of virtual break out spaces and physical break out rooms to enable smaller activities and discussions to take place without everybody talking over each other in the same space.

See hear

It may not be everyone’s favourite part of online meetings and many of us will have flashbacks to those video calls in the early days of the tech where we tried to ‘hide’ from the camera sensor by not speaking.  But seeing and hearing participants is an essential component of virtual meetings and the technology you use must support high-quality video and audio.

As well as this, the meeting room should be well-lit and have minimal background noise, and meeting organisers should identify any access needs for participants and arrange assistive technology and make adjustments as necessary.

Keep it balanced

It's a slippery slope towards allowing louder members to dominate a meeting. Good facilitation should involve giving equal time to all attendees and paying close attention to those quieter members who may not feel as confident jumping in, particularly if they are on the remote end of the call. Inviting comments and asking questions is a simple way of doing this.

Use visual aids

Sharing presentations, documents, and videos can help keep everyone engaged and on the same page. Consider using virtual whiteboards, such as Miro, polling software for increased interaction, and shared screens to make it easier for remote attendees to follow along. You can include QR codes if needed for larger meetings where attendees are required to register, or just to share information about the meeting.

When deciding what format your visual aids will take, focus on user experience, particularly for your remote participants, and don’t include any visuals that can only be used by those in the room.  

Take breaks

Holding a hybrid meeting can be more tiring than an in-person meeting, so make sure to take regular breaks. This will help refresh everyone's minds and keep them focused for the rest of the meeting. And don’t be afraid to adjourn and reconvene another day if it looks like attention is waning and tiredness is setting in.  

Follow up

After the meeting, make sure to summarize the key decisions and actions, and share them with all attendees. Consider using project management or collaboration tools to keep track of progress and ensure everyone is up to date.  It’s a good idea to gather anonymous feedback to help identify improvements, perhaps using the Keep, Stop, Start method.

And one last thing

Sometimes the things we let pass us by are the ones we needed to notice. When you’re planning for a hybrid meeting, allow yourself to really think about the way office-only meetings were held and if there is anything you’ve missed that could become an obstacle in the hybrid world. Those pastries you order for the breakfast meeting? Not so good watching your colleagues enjoy these on your screen.  The last-minute addition of Kenny from Accounts with his tabled papers? Not very useful for those at home.  Small but important details.  

These are our tips to get you started.  There is a wealth of helpful information online with more tips and research insights, such as the CIPD Hybrid Meeting Top Tips and The Surprising Science Behind Remote Meetings from MIT Sloan Management Review.For more insights and articles about hybrid working from Team Today, visit our blog here.

Madeleine Thompson

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